The BBC on Beslan

From the BBC:

Beslan school siege: Russia ‘failed to prevent’ massacre

Given a massacre happened, I’d say so, yes.

In the siege, Chechen separatists took more than 1,000 hostages, the vast majority of them children.

It ended when Russian security forces stormed the building. Survivors say the troops used excessive force.

In all seriousness, and acknowledging that the siege would have been an enormous challenge for even the world’s most proficient counter-terrorism force, the Russian response was absolutely shambolic in the most woeful sense of the word. It made Nord-Ost look like Operation Entebbe.

And this:

Presumably the chap who does the bylines is Irish.

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Preaching Extremism with Impunity

Happenings in France:

A mosque in the eastern suburbs of Paris was ordered closed on Tuesday because authorities deemed it “a threat to security”.
The mosque, located in Torcy in the Seine-et-Marne department, was deemed by authorities to be “a threat to public order”.
Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said the mosque had “become a place where radical ideology was advocated”.
“Some of the preaching was openly hostile to France’s laws and was inciting hate to other religious communities, primarily Shia Muslims and Jews.”
He added that there was a risk of “a breeding ground that threatened security and public order” in France.
In the official police order for closure, Imams were said to have “legitimized armed jihad” over the past two years, “calling on members to pray for jihadists to destroy the enemies of Islam in France and around the world”.

I have a Muslim friend living in a European capital, and I occasionally meet him and speak about the issue of extremism being preached in mosques across Europe. He hails from an Arabic-speaking country where mosques are carefully watched by the authorities and Imams are licensed by the state.

He told me he once went to a mosque in the city where he now lives and was amazed, absolutely staggered, to find extremism being openly preached and leaflets being handed out in support of jihadists in Syria and Iraq. He said back in his home country this wouldn’t have been tolerated for one second: the mosque would have been shut down and the Imam thrown in jail. He said that this particular mosque was hardly unusual.

What he could not for the life of him understand was why the authorities in the west allow these places to remain open, preaching extremism. He says western governments, rather than hassling moderate Muslims and the general population, should simply start rounding up the obvious extremists who preach their poisonous creed with impunity. He said if they are local they should be jailed and if they are foreign they should be deported immediately.

Although I am fully wedded to the ideas of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and due process I could not help but think my friend did have something of a valid point. It’s all very well us telling moderate Muslims that they should do more, but they might well turn around and ask when we intend to do start doing something about it. As I have said before, why should moderate Muslims put their heads above the parapet and tackle the extremists in their midst when the host governments can’t even bring themselves to admit there is a problem?

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Trump and Nato

What’s Trump up to now?

US President Donald Trump has said Nato is “no longer obsolete”, reversing a stance that had alarmed allies.

Let me just park that there for a second and quote a paragraph from ZMan’s latest offering:

Another thing about Trump  that makes him an extreme outlier in national politics is that he is not an ideologue. Most of our politicians are quite stupid. All of their intellectual energy is focused on the endless scheming and game playing that is politics. What passes for ideology in American politics is really just a laundry list of policies aimed at buying votes from interest groups. That’s why they sound like robots. They stick to the script, even in the face of a public revolt, because that’s the safe and easy way to do it.

That’s not Trump. He is not married to any policy. In the campaign, he would regularly say something one day and then take it back two days later when it proved to be unpopular. It is safe to assume, for example, that Trump has zero interest in health care. He’ll sign off on anything that is popular with the voters. He’s also willing to dump a bad policy without worrying a bit about being called a hypocrite or inconsistent. Trump is practical about these things. If it does not work, he tosses it aside and moves onto to the next thing.

This will be terribly frustrating for partisans, but Trump is a goal oriented guy.

I don’t disagree with any of that, and I think it is a good thing that the United States finally has a President who might borrow the words of Keynes and say “when the facts change, I change my mind.” Of course this would mean that Trump is also prone to manipulation by vested interests (and many believe this is happening right now over Syria), but I think on balance it is better to have a flexible President who listens to his advisers rather than a narcissist like Obama who is convinced he’s the smartest one in the room and is interested only in his “legacy”.

But that doesn’t mean that everything Trump changes his mind on is good, though. Let’s get back to his remarks on Nato:

Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned Nato’s purpose, while complaining that the US pays an unfair share of membership.

Nato was formed for one purpose: keeping the Soviets out of western Europe. If we assume the Russia inherited Soviet regional policies along with their embassies, nuclear weapons, and permanent seat on the UNSC, that means Nato exists to keep the Russians out of western Europe.

There are some people who believe there is nothing to fear from Russia and nobody in the west should bat an eyelid if Putin & Co go around invading neighbours and annexing peninsulas, and that is fair enough. In that case, Nato has no reason to exist. There are others, like me, who think Russia’s regional ambitions are a concern and Nato should continue in the role it was originally formed to play. It is important to understand that confronting Russia over, say, the annexation of Crimea or sabre-rattling on the Estonian border is very much consistent with an overall aim of keeping Russia out of western Europe. It is better this confrontation happens in the east at an early stage than on the borders of Austria and Germany later on when the west has no choice and the Russians have the wind at their backs.

However, if this is the purpose of Nato then it is imperative that each of its members pulls its weight and commits itself fully to the military and diplomatic aims of the organisation. If they continue to do what most of them have done for the past few decades, i.e. rely on the Americans to provide 99% of the military capability and sit there carping about American warmongering while at the same time undermining them diplomatically by doing cosy business and political deals with the Russians then the organisation, as Trump originally said, really is obsolete and should be wound up pronto. I was hoping Trump’s statement would force the Nato member states to carefully consider where their long-term interests lay and to decide the future of the alliance accordingly.

But this:

At a joint press conference with Mr Stoltenberg, Mr Trump said: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more Nato can do in the fight against terrorism.

“I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.

“I said it [Nato] was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

How the hell is Nato useful in the fight against terrorism? From what I can tell, most terrorism we see in the western world today is a result of two things:

1. Failed Muslim-majority states in the Middle East and elsewhere.

2. Extremely poor government policies in western countries which border on negligence if not outright treason.

Nato is of absolutely no use in tackling either of these. I don’t even think the assault on Afghanistan that kicked the Taliban out of power should have been a Nato mission: a “coalition of the willing” would have been good enough. Sure, there was some symbolism there but all it achieved was to muddy the waters as to what Nato’s purpose is. Things were already rather opaque when the organisation was used to attack Serbia over Kosovo: regardless of the rights and wrongs of that mission, it should never have been carried out under the banner of Nato. It allowed the Russians to claim, with some justification, that Nato is not merely a defensive organisation (although I don’t believe for one second they genuinely think it represents an offensive threat to Russia).

In short, Nato ought only to exist to fight Russians trying to get their mitts on western Europe (or roll tanks over its allies and up to its borders); if the member states don’t want that then it is obsolete. Shying away from its primary purpose by pretending it can be used to fight terrorism doesn’t change this analysis, regardless of what Trump is now saying.

Earlier this week Nato welcomed Montenegro as its 29th member nation.

Which is as much proof of the organisation’s obsolescence as you need.

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War Preferable to Immigration Controls

Robert Tracinski has some ideas about how to deal with Syria:

If Syria seems too far away, too brutal, too primitive, too wrapped up in its own internal strife between equally unappealing factions—well, that’s exactly what I thought about another conflict a few years back. It was the mid-1990s, and the conflict was in Afghanistan. And that part about how this was irrelevant to American interests? That didn’t end well.

It turned out that the chaos in Afghanistan was not so remote as to be none of our business, because it provided a breeding ground, safe haven, and international recruiting program for terrorists who wanted to attack the United States. We found that out on September 11. Well, actually, we found it out before then, when al-Qaeda staged big attacks on US citizens and assets in East Africa and Yemen. But it took September 11 to make the threat undeniable.

So here we are, sixteen years later, sitting back and watching the Islamists recreate exactly the same conditions. There is a zone of constant warfare and chaos that allows terrorists to establish themselves. There is a new safe haven where a brutal terrorist group seizes state power, or quasi-state power, and puts themselves forward as a champion of Islam and a model of successful jihad. They call on supporters from around the world to rally to their banner, and then they support or incite terrorist attacks back home in the West—in Paris, in Brussels, in Sydney, in San Bernardino and Orlando.

I’m just a dumb engineer, but wouldn’t stopping terrorists trained in Syria from carrying out attacks in the United States involve limiting the ability to travel from Syria to the US and enhancing the screening of those that do? In other words, doing that very thing that Trump tried to do and was struck down by regional courts citing the effects it would have on tourism?

I’ll believe the US and European nations are taking the threat of Islamic terrorism being imported into their countries seriously when they put far greater controls on who comes in and what they do once they are there. But Tracinski has a better plan:

For example, when it comes to pushing the Russians out of Syria now that they’re ensconced there, there’s a straightforward model for that: Afghanistan. Of course we shouldn’t challenge the Russkis directly, because that would risk escalation into a great power war. But we can give very substantial covert support to select groups of rebels—far more than the half-hearted, going-through-the-motions efforts so far—and make Syria a quagmire the Russians can’t sustain. Russia is a shrunken shadow of the Soviet Union and in far less of a position to maintain a serious effort in Syria over the long term.

What could possibly go wrong?

All of this to avoid having to admit that the immigration policies of the United States and Europe have failed and are endangering its citizens.

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Standing for what, exactly?

Perhaps I am the only one who is skeptical about this:

Women gathered on Westminster Bridge on Sunday to show solidarity with the victims of the London terror attack.

Is that why they were there? Or is that why they said they were there?

Many of the women wore head scarves at the tribute and said they were wearing blue to represent hope.

I’m more interested in why they were wearing headscarves than why they wore blue. Sadly, the BBC doesn’t tell us.

The event was organised by Women’s March On London group which took part in an international campaign to highlight women’s rights on the first full day of Donald Trump’s US presidency.

So it was a political event, then.

Another woman who was there, Sarah Waseem, said the Islam faith “totally condemns violence of any sort”.

Is this what you came to tell us?

She said: “When an attack happens in London, it is an attack on me.

You know, there are some people out there who wish that, in the wake of a terrorist attack, certain groups would not insist on making it all about them.

Women’s rights activist, Akeela Ahmed, who helped organise Sunday’s event said it had been “powerful and sent a clear message”.

She said there had been no speeches and that those attending had been advised to stay for the five minutes then disperse because the group had wanted it to be low key and not disruptive.

A low-key event formally organised and advertised by a political lobby group called “Women’s March On London” and reported by the BBC on its front page.

I may be being a little harsh here, but I think the memory of the victims would have been better served had these people stayed at home.

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A Careful Choice of Words

From the BBC:

Violence in Paris over the police killing of a Chinese man has left three police officers injured with more than 30 people detained.

Demonstrators had gathered outside a police station on Monday to pay homage to the slain man.

It’s interesting to note the choice of words here. Had a terrorist killed innocent people the BBC would not have referred to them as “slain”. Instead they would have said they “lost their lives”, as if it were a bus accident. There is also no mention in the article of “thoughts and prayers”.

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Yet More Jihad Fatigue

When the news of yesterday’s attacks in London reached me I was sitting at my desk diligently working on engineering designs which would, if implemented, unquestionably contribute to the betterment of mankind. The contrast between my selfless efforts and the mindless destruction of human life in Westminster could not have been more stark, and as one of the few Brits in the office I believed it was my duty to make every discussion thereafter about me and how I felt.

My first thoughts went out to those whose job it is to respond to such incidents, the people on whom we rely to bring order to the chaos, provide comfort where it is needed, and return things to normal. I am referring, of course, to those responsible for switching the lighting schemes on global landmarks into displays of meaningless solidarity. It was but a simple task to light up the Sydney opera house in the tricolor of France, or the Brandenburg gate in the red, black, and yellow of the Belgian flag. But what to do when an Islamist massacre happens in the UK?

A solution came from an expected source: Israel. Since its formation Israel has been plagued with terror attacks and hence is far better prepared to respond to them than perhaps any other nation. It was therefore unsurprising that within hours of the attack, the town hall in Tel Aviv had been transformed thusly:

Seeing this was triggering for me, though. It reminded me of the early 1990s and playing Wolfenstein 3D which would go all pixellated if you ran too close to something, like a Swastika or British flag, and this was during the time of the IRA mainland bombing campaigns and painful memories came flooding back. So although the Israelis meant well, this really didn’t help much and I might have fucked up a crucial element of my engineering calculations.

Besides, nobody is interested in how Israelis respond to terror attacks, even if their methods are strikingly effective. By which I mean air strikes on those believed responsible, of course. No, this attack on the UK required a European response, especially given the motivation of the terrorist might well turn out to be the grim realities of Brexit. At this stage, we just don’t know. So just as Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “times have changed, and we should learn to live with terrorism”, it was once again the French who provided much-needed leadership in these difficult times:

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced Wednesday evening local time that the city’s most famous landmark would go dark in solidarity with those killed and injured near the British Parliament building earlier in the day.

Given that I live in Paris I found this doubly touching, so much so that I touched a female colleague in a clumsy attempt at solidarity. I now have to report to HR this morning. However, and while I do not wish to disparage the brave efforts of those running the Eiffel Tower lighting display for one second, the whole affair does raise some worrying questions.

For instance, is turning off lights really the same as displaying the national colours? Why, given how commonplace these attacks are becoming in Europe, were lighting systems not upgraded to cope with all national flags? If the Israelis can manage it, why can’t we? Surely it can’t be a matter of cost? We were perhaps fortunate that this time it was just London. A friend back in the UK overheard a worried-looking policeman say to his colleague “What if it had been in Cardiff?” One can only imagine. I can only hope and pray that no such attack takes place in Croatia, Slovakia, or even Portugal but if it does I further hope and pray that the appropriate authorities will be ready this time.

Having been calmed down somewhat by the prompt actions of the Paris mayor, my next concern was perhaps equally unsettling: what cutesy image can I put on my Facebook profile to show that I care? I waited and waited for a graphic artist to come up with Cutesy Image of the Massacre™ for this particular event but none came, and I was feeling completely helpless. I even asked one of my more talented colleagues to design one for me as visions of cashing in big-time flashed before my eyes, but his initial idea of a teddy bear in a bobby’s uniform left me cold, especially when I saw it was carrying its own severed head. Perhaps I should have asked somebody other than Abdul. Fortunately, the stoic Londoners shrugged off adversity as they always do and came through with this:

I felt better immediately, although if I’m honest I wasn’t afraid before: I’m in Paris after all, miles from Westminster. I wasn’t even afraid when Islamist nutters were on one of their rampages around these parts because by the time I heard about them everyone was already dead and I was still alive and well. So I wasn’t afraid. Perhaps I ought to have been angry, but alas these days I just feel so weary. I spoke to a doctor and he said it was simply a case of Jihad Fatigue. There’s been a lot of it going around lately, and my symptoms were so far gone that when people mentioned the one year anniversary of the massacre in Brussels, I’d completely forgotten it had taken place.

The words of Manuel Valls quoted above, which were echoed by London’s mayor Sadiq Khan last September when he said terrorist attacks were simply “part and parcel of living in a big city”, were absolutely right. Random people being murdered by Islamic terrorists is something we’re going to have to get used to, because the leadership isn’t interested in doing anything about it and the majority of citizens are not interested in electing leaders who are. For my part, I intend to sell everything I own and invest the proceeds into the suppliers of high-resolution, large scale lighting equipment. The world is gonna need more of them.

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Chaos at Orly

I’m rather glad I went through Orly airport last weekend, not this one:

A man has been shot dead after trying to seize a soldier’s weapon at Orly airport in Paris, French officials say.

He was killed by the security forces in a shop after the attack in the airport’s southern terminal.

The airport has been shut after what the authorities described as an extremely serious incident.

The eye witnesses interviewed in the article are clearly unfamiliar with France and how things are done over here:

“We were sitting in Hall Three when all of a sudden people started running and telling us to run with them,” Ellie Guttetter, 18, from the US said.

“The people running were passengers and flight attendants. It was pretty chaotic and everyone was panicking – it was scary.”

Another eyewitness, Meredith Dixon, described seeing panicked airline personnel, with no security or police personnel to usher people outside the airport complex.

“It was complete chaos,” she told the BBC.

“There were no alarms. No overhead announcements. No organised evacuation. People just began running.

“In the meantime, passengers kept arriving at the airport. I am stunned that after the events in this country, and Paris in particular, the airport had no organised evacuation plan for what I would surmise is a high-value target.”

This doesn’t surprise me in the least. A few years back a friend of mine, a Russian, was travelling on an Air France flight when one of the passengers took ill. She started having some kind of seizure and collapsed on the floor. The stewardesses had no idea what to do and so called their chief from first class, a man. He arrived and also had no idea what to do and started to panic. This induced panic in the rest of the stewardesses which was quickly transferred to the nearby passengers. Eventually somebody got the sick woman some medicine from within her hand baggage and things calmed down. I remarked to my friend that I’d seen a similar incident take place on an Aeroflot flight and the stewardesses just took it in their stride: asked some firm questions, got the answers, and administered some medicine. My friend and I also had a discussion about how Russians, especially men, really aren’t prone to panic. Stuff goes catastrophically wrong in Russia so often that people are used to it, and learn to deal with it. I expect the Aeroflot staff wouldn’t panic even if the plane was upside down and on fire.

Chaos and panic are common in France, as is poor organisation, especially when things go wrong. There are reasons for this. In France, promotions in organisations are achieved not by the calm, consistent delivery of quality output but by firstly being a member of an elite group, and then secondly by doing everything in your power to stand out in meetings where the hierarchy is present, preferably by making your rivals look stupid. One of the most common ways to do this is to “challenge” somebody or something, i.e. make yourself look smarter than whoever set up the prevailing orthodoxy. Nobody got anywhere in France by following the rules; those who want to get ahead must learn to break them as a matter of routine.

They would have had an evacuation plan at Orly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve actually held drills. The problem is, every drill would have gone differently as successive people in charge decided they knew better than the person who drew up the plan. Yes, if you spend a decade or more climbing the greasy pole in a French organisation, eventually you start to believe your own bullshit and genuinely think you know more than anyone else. Until the shit really hits the fan that is, and then it’s panic followed rapidly by finding somebody to blame. France has some of the most brilliant minds in the world at its disposal, but sound management eludes them and they lack leaders almost entirely.

It is worth looking at the fate of Air France 447, which came down in 2009 between Rio de Janeiro and Paris. A 2011 article in Popular Mechanics went into considerable detail as to the causes of the crash, going through the cockpit recordings line-by-line. It paints a dismal picture of experienced pilots engaged in a litany of human errors as they abandon warnings, procedures, and protocols because – presumably – they think they know better. When I first read about this the crash started to make sense.

The primary reason for intensive training in dealing with emergency scenarios and carrying out drills is to ensure key people will be familiar with the chaotic environment and won’t panic, and each person will know exactly what their role is so, together, they can bring the situation under control. But French organisations have a culture of promoting highly-ambitious, usually very intelligent people who are extremely individualistic and must demonstrate their brilliance by throwing orthodoxy out of the window.

I’m not saying any other country could manage an airport attack better than the French authorities managed the one at Orly this morning. But I’m not in the least surprised that there was chaos, panic, and a complete lack of anyone in charge. This goes to the very heart of their organisational culture.

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Terrorist Numbers vs Effectiveness

This tweet has been doing the rounds, and it’s actually pretty funny:

I have heard a few people expressing this same sentiment, i.e. that Trump’s restrictions on immigration will lead to an increase in terrorist numbers. Leaving aside the fact that this rather too casually assumes Muslims are prone to turn to terrorism over relatively mundane things and if this is the case then maybe restricting their movements isn’t such a bad idea, I think the point is anyway moot.

We used to hear this a lot during the American response to 9/11, first with the attack on Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and then the supposedly related Iraq War. But I grew skeptical of that argument when it was applied to Israeli policies, namely their assassination of successive Hamas leaders in 2004 and the building of the security barrier. Many commentators warned that neither would lead to peace and both would result in more Palestinians turning to terrorism.

Only I thought this missed the point spectacularly. At the time these policies were being carried out, Israel was already subject to sustained terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians. At that point the precise number of terrorists didn’t matter but limiting their effectiveness did, and it was to limit their effectiveness that Israel enacted these particular policies. If the number of suicide attacks fell as a consequence (and they did) then the possibility that a few hundred more terrorists joined the ranks of those who already existed was of secondary importance. Many people condemn Israel policies as making things worse, but in the minds of a lot of Israelis things really couldn’t get any worse in terms of relations with the Palestinians and their supporters so they really oughtn’t to be too concerned about this when enacting policies to keep them safe. Long term Israel might have the luxury of worrying about how many terrorists it is facing, but at the time (and now) I don’t think it matters much to them whether there are 10,000 or 50,000: limiting their effectiveness becomes the priority.

I’m sure Jim Gamble knows this, but judging by his Twitter feed he appears to be more interested in scoring political points. Given the scale of what the British government faced in Northern Ireland it was probably correct to consider the effect on terrorist numbers should they crack down too hard on the Republicans: the conflict was more or less contained, except for the occasional bombing on the mainland, and there was a balance to be had between limiting the effectiveness of the IRA and seriously pissing off the ordinary nationalists. But the situation faced by Israel was quite different, and hence the balance point shifted.

Whether his policy is the right way to go about it or not, Trump is trying to keep terrorists out of the United States. I cannot read Trump’s mind but I might guess that he has looked at America’s efforts in the War on Terror over the past decade and a half and reached the conclusion that trying to eradicate Islamic terrorism is an impossible task and so limiting the ability of terrorists to inflict harm within the US ought to be a priority. Some may argue that it is better there are only 100 Islamic terrorists hell-bent on attacking the USA instead of 2,000 and they’d be right; but if there are currently 100,000 such people and policies to limit their ability to enter the USA bumps these numbers up to 120,000 it is reasonable to ask what the difference is. A cursory glance around the world will tell you there is no shortage of Islamic terrorists and their numbers will be in the tens of thousands even if Trump throws himself off his own tower and Louis Farrakhan gets installed as the Grand Mufti of the newly formed Islamic Republic of North America. At this point their precise numbers mean no more than whether Nato was facing 50,000 or 80,000 Soviet tanks at the Fulda Gap: they were vastly outnumbered, and so they needed to come up with a way with countering them.

There are people who think Muslims will interpret Trump’s Executive Order as a “war on Islam” and it will be “us against them”. Only we’ve heard this line repeated after 9/11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, and in the aftermath of every terrorist attack since, and when something is repeated often enough it sometimes comes to be. There are a growing number of people in the West who already believe that it is “us against them” and we are already at war with Islam, only the leadership are reluctant to say so. These beliefs are harboured by a good number of those who voted for Trump and support his immigration policies, indeed this is precisely why a lot of them voted for him. If things keep heading in this direction the number of people who believe Islamic terrorism will always exist as long as Islam exists, and the priority for the West should be to put as much physical distance between Muslim populations and everyone else, will increase and will eventually become a majority.

Both Muslims and Western politicians should be a lot more concerned about that group growing than terrorist numbers.

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A Rare Case of Uzbek-Kyrgyz Cooperation

I see the police in Turkey have caught the man they believe carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. He appears to have spent the interim period at a bare-knuckle boxing gym:

Abdulkadir Masharipov is believed to have mounted the assault on the Reina club which left 39 people dead.

The Uzbek national is said to have been caught in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district.

Uzbek, you say? So not an Uighur, then? Didn’t think so.

There had been fears that the gunman had managed to escape Turkey, perhaps to territory held by so-called Islamic State, which said it was behind the attack.

I must say, this surprises me a lot. One of the features of al-Qa’eda and ISIS-driven gun attacks and bombings is that the perpetrators treat it as a suicide mission and don’t make much of an attempt to escape. The Charlie Hebdo gunmen fled initially but fought to the death when cornered in a warehouse; the Bataclan attackers died at the scene; the Nice lorry driver was shot to death in the cab. The policeman who murdered the Russian ambassador in Ankara didn’t seem much interested in getting away either. The inability to capture these people alive after an attack is what makes ISIS-inspired terrorists so dangerous because, as the Western films taught us, dead men can’t talk.

The guy who drove the lorry into the Christmas market in Berlin on 19th December broke the trend by fleeing Germany to Italy via France, and only got shot and killed when policemen in Milan asked him his identity during a random stop in Milan. Where he was headed is anyone’s guess. And now you have this Uzbek fleeing the scene of the crime and attempting to lie low instead of remaining in the club and making the victim count as high as possible until his ammunition runs out or the police kill him. You’d have thought that if he was intending to escape he’d have got the hell out of Istanbul and over the border into Syria somehow, but he seems to have stuck around. This might be because the Turkish security forces are so efficient they sealed off the entire city and closed the borders so tight nobody could slip through, but I’m a little skeptical of that.

My theory is this: ISIS are finding it more difficult to recruit suicidal fanatics and are having to use slightly less fanatical people who are happy to carry out an atrocity but not so keen on committing suicide in the process. The Arab-speaking world has at this point a lengthening history of supplying suicide attackers, but Uzbeks aren’t generally known for it. Ethnic Uzbeks fought in Afghanistan, switching loyalty between various sides under the leadership of Abdul Rashid Dostum, but in a manner more akin to tribal self-interest than the religious fanaticism shown by the mujaheddin and later the Taliban.

There are certainly religious fanatics in Uzbekistan however, but their numbers and capabilities are often exaggerated either by westerners through ignorance or locals for political convenience. Following 9/11 the president of Uzbekistan, the late Islam Karimov, established his pro-Western credentials with the United States by allowing them to use the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in the south of the country to attack targets in Afghanistan. He also promised to root out extremist elements in Uzbekistan which pleased the US, only he used this as cover to crack down on his domestic political opponents who had nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, earning his government a reputation as a serial abuser of human. Eventually the complaints got so bad the relations between the two countries soured.

My guess would be that ISIS has successfully recruited a few thousand Uzbeks to their cause but their levels of fanaticism and commitment are questionable, at least in comparison to their Arabic comrades.

Police reportedly found the suspect along with his four year-old son at the home of a Kyrgyz friend in the city. Turkish media say that his friend was also detained, along with three women.

This surprises me as well. Despite being close neighbours and sharing an insanely complicated border which completely (and deliberately, thanks to Stalin) dissects ethnic groupings, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are widely different peoples. The main difference is that Uzbeks are Turkic people who are settled, meaning they live in towns and villages. The Kyrgyz, like the Kazakhs, are traditionally nomadic and more akin to Mongolians. From my own experience and readings, Uzbeks tend to be more aggressive and take their religion a little more seriously. You rarely hear of Kazakhs or Kyrgyz throwing their lot in with al-Qa’eda or ISIS, although no doubt some do. My guess would be they’d number in the low thousands at most, if that.

Despite their common Soviet history, the Uzbeks are hardly natural allies with the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs. In September 2015 I attended an Uzbek wedding near Shymkent in Kazakhstan, close to the border with Uzbekistan. The town of Shymkent is 14% Uzbek, and the village where the wedding took place was pretty much 100% Uzbek. I noticed that there were a few ethnic Russians at the wedding but no Kazakhs; and I happened to be in the venue of a Kazakh wedding the day before and didn’t see any Uzbeks (after a while you can tell them apart by looking at them; of course the locals can do this from a mile away). I asked my friend, who was the one getting married, if there is much mixing between Uzbeks and Kazakhs and he said there wasn’t. You occasionally see some mixing with the Russians and sometimes the Korean minorities, but not between Uzbeks and Kazakhs. I’ve not been to the Ferghana Valley region where Uzbekistan borders  Kyrgyzstan, but I would guess much the same thing applies there.

Ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz came to a head in 2010 when the two groups clashed in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad, leading to around a thousand people being killed and over a hundred thousand displaced during the fighting and the aftermath. In short, the Istanbul gunman hiding out at the home of his mate appears to be a rare case of Uzbek-Kyrgyz cooperation rather something to be expected.

One would hope that now the Turkish authorities have captured him alive we’ll find out some answers as to who he was working for and his motivations. I doubt they’ll get much useful information out of him regarding ISIS as a whole, if it was indeed they who put him up to it. They’d have known he wasn’t keen on dying at the scene and as such wouldn’t have given him any information that wasn’t pertinent to the job in hand, and as an Uzbek of questionable commitment he would unlikely be included in high-level meetings. I don’t know what methods the Turks use to extract information from foreigners who have murdered 39 people in Istanbul nightclubs, but I suspect he’ll spill whatever he has and then some. Whoever is in charge of the translating might want to spend the day brushing up on Uzbek phrases such as “Please take these crocodile clips off my bollocks!”

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